When your list surgery cuts deep you risk hitting an artery.
Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge have been the lifeblood of one of the all-time great teams of any era. The imminent transitioning to life without the two champion leaders was always going to be a challenge for the Hawks’ brains trust.
Whether moving Mitchell onto West Coast will be regarded as bold, brilliant or foolhardy will only be known with the passage of time.
For a club that’s been at the top for so long, accepting a slow and methodical rebuild was never going to sit well. Alastair Clarkson is of a mind he can walk while chewing gum, and why not? It is possible – Sydney have done a remarkable job of massaging a list capable of challenging for more than a decade now.
Landing elite non-free agents always comes at a cost though. Beyond Mitchell, other stalwarts such as Lewis have been shopped around. Even Sicily, who one might have thought was an untouchable given the Hawks’ forward line challenges. Others must be wondering if their name has been mentioned in dispatches. Just as every player seems to want to go to Hawthorn, only Brad Hill wanted to leave.
Tearing at the fabric of a team so tightly bonded by success is an enormous risk. As seen with Collingwood, one pulled thread or two can see things quickly unravel. On the flipside, Brisbane, having achieved the same feat as Hawthorn a dozen seasons ago, were unwilling to make hard calls and endured a slow downward spiral.
Success in the AFL requires a degree of ruthlessness, no one doubts that. Canny drafting is one thing but it’s the yearly meat market where a club’s immediate prospects can rise or fall markedly.
In recent years retirements and Roughead’s misfortune have seen Hawthorn’s depth take a sizeable hit. Leadership stocks have thinned. They simply don’t have the surplus quality players they once had to trade up.
Whilst Sam Mitchell’s departure may go half way to snaffling a couple young guns, what price are immeasurables such as player harmony and club culture? Is there still a place for sentiment and loyalty in football?
If the esteem Luke Beveridge and his charges held Bob Murphy in is a guide, the answer is yes. Good average teams can indeed achieve the impossible dream if they are unified and individuals feel unequivocally valued for services provided, rather than commodities to be traded on a whim.
That said, given the passage of a long pre season, it may well be business as usual at Hawthorn come Round 1, 2017. And should Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara’s dodgy knees mount the dais in brown and gold at some stage in the next 10 years Clarko will once again be hailed a genius.
To be continued…